Hitchcock's "Rear Window" can't be easily imitated, as the uncredited remake,"Disturbia," clearly provedBack to Turner Movie Classics, back to some great viewing.
I took a break last month, avoiding TMC’s annual Academy Awards tribute, because, frankly, I didn’t want to repeat myself. There’s only so much one can say about “Lawrence of Arabia” (Yea!) and “West Side Story” (Nay!), two of Turner’s favored Oscar perennials.
But, I thought, why not cut back during the other eleven months of the year? With that in mind, it’s going to take tremendous restraint not to comment on two Hitchcock titles that seem to pop up every month – “Rear Window” (1954) and “Vertigo” (1958) – and that open the month with 1:15 and 3:15 p.m. (est.) showings on 1 March.
But wait! I will say this: One of the last times “Rear Window” aired on Turner, host Ben Mankiewicz compared D.J. Caruso’s recent uncredited remake, “Disturbia” (2007), favorably to the Hitchcock classic. Huh? Actually, Mankiewicz isn’t the first to make this observaation/mistake.
Most working critics, who should know better, also approved of Caruso’s lame attempt at appropriation.
Aside from ripping off the premise of Hitch’s story (culled from Cornell Woolrich’s short story, "Murder from a Fixed Viewpoint"), “Distrubia” has little else in common with “Rear Window.” Caruso simply ignored (or missed) the elaborate and intricate production design of Hitchcock’s film (courtesy of the invaluable talents of art directors Joseph MacMillan Johnson and Hal Pereira) and the veteran director’s savvy use of ambient sounds. It simply connected the dots and its popularity evades me as much as the success of its star, young-leading-man-du-jour, Shia LaBeouf.
Moving on, Joanne Woodward's flawless, affecting, deeply internalized performance in Nunnally Johnson's "The Three Faces of Eve" (1957) elevates this small film above the B-movie status with which its studio, Fox, saddled it. Talk about the little engine that could.
It airs 1 March at 8 p.m. (est.).
Skipping past George Seaton's "Teacher's Pet" (1958) - another personal favorite (airing 2 March at 5:45 p.m. (est.) - there's Anthony Mann's underrated remake of "Cimarron" (1960), set for a 1:30 p.m. (est.) screening on 3 March. Mann is better-known for the darker "adult" Westerns that he made with Jimmy Stewart, but this handsome, broad-shouldered domestic drama set during the pioneering days of Oklahoma is compulsively watchable, thanks to stars Glenn Ford and Maria Schell.
Speaking of Oklahoma, Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1955 film musical with that title follows at 5:30 p.m. (est.) They don't make musicals like this anymore because neither audiences nor critics will sit still for them, but it's irresistible. This time, take note of the delirious dream ballet, choreographed by Agnes DeMille against Oliver Smith's staggeringly gorgeous production design. Curiously, the number is performed almost exclusively by professional dancers - plus Rod Steiger, the film's only actor to participate. My hunch is that director Fred Zinnemann wanted to add another jarring touch to the number - and jarring it is.
It gets an encore showing at 1 a.m. (est.), 15 March.
Another musical that could never be made today is Sir Carol Reed's fastidious version of Lionel Bart's "Oliver!" (1968), airing 4 March at 5 p.m. and dominated by Onna White's Oscar-winning choreography which tops anything done on film by Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins and Rob Marshall. Here, we see dancers actually dance - full bodies in full frame - without interferring editing or special effects. How old-fashioned!
And how wonderful!
"Oliver!" is preceded at 3:15 p.m. by stage hand Peter Coe's only film, "Lock Up Your Daughters" (1969) which is based on another musical by Lionel Bart (lyrics) who collaborated with Laurie Johnson (music). It was directed on stage by Coe ten years earlier, in 1959, at London's Mermaid Theater but brought to the screen as a non-musical in a naked attempt to imitate Tony Richardson's "Tom Jones" (1963), replete with the same lead actress, Susannah York. (Glynnis Johns, Jim Dale and Christopher Plummer are among the co-stars.) It is, as they say, ribald.
"Lock Up Your Daughters" is one of several '60s British films Columbia produced or imported, most of which seem to be lost now. In fact, prior to this Turner screening, "Lock Up Your Daughters" would have been an ideal candidate for Cinema Obscura. Other British Columbia films of this period include William Wyler's "The Collector" and Richard Fleischer's "10 Rillington Place" (both of which can still be seen) and Michael Powell's
"Age of Consent" (recently rescued by Criterion for DVD release). Less lucky have been Dick Clement's "A Severed Head," based on the Irish Murdoch novel and play and starring Lee Remick, Claire Bloom and Ian Holm; John Dexter's "The Virgin Soldiers," with Lynn Redgrave and Hywel Bennett, and Robert Ellis Miller's "The Buttercup Chain," starring Bennett, Jane Asher, Leight Taylor-Young and Sven-Bertil Taube.
Where are these films now?
William Holden was ahead of his time when he shaved his chest for Joshua Logan's "Picnic" (1955), airing 6 p.m. (est.) on 6 March, and must have liked it so much that he did the same thing for Henry King's "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing" (also '55), airing on Turner at 6 p.m. (est.) on 22 March and David Lean's "The Bridge on the River Kwai" (1957), which gets a 1 a.m. (est.) showing on Turner on 11 March.
Nicholas Ray's deranged feminist Western (with lesbian undertones),
"Johnny Guitar" (1954), gets two showings this month, all the better to savor Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge as they go at each other. It airs 7 March at 6 p.m. (est.) and also on 31 March at 11:30 a.m. (est.) Knock yourself out watching it twice.
Barbra Streisand makes like Lucy Ricardo in Peter Yates appealing sitcom, "For Pete's Sake" (1974), screening at 2 :15 p.m. (est.) on 8 March. At the other extreme, there's Yasujiro Ozu's devastating "Tokyo Story" (1953) about an elderly couple who visits their children, only to be made to feel as if they are in the way. Turner gives it an inconvenient early-morning showing at 2 a.m. (est.) on 9 March.
Barbara, Janet and Joi, looking good in George Sidney's comedy rompBlake Edwards' first feature as a director - the very difficult-to-see "Bring Your Smile Along" (1955), starring Frankie Laine, Constance Towers and Keefe Brasselle - pops up at 2:15 p.m. (est.) on 11 March. It's followed at 3:45 p.m. (est.) by Guy Green's tender "Light in the Piazza" (1962), a rare film in which Metro's Yvette Mimieux was allowed to shine.
Highly recommended: Richard Fleischer's rodeo-themed "Arena" (1953), starring the ace cast of Gig Young, Polly Bergen and Jean Hagen. It airs at 4:45 p.m. (est.) on 12 March. On 13 March, you can go from Alexander Korda's veddy British "Vacation from Marriage" (1945), with Robert Donat and Deborah Kerr (at 12 a.m., est.), to William Castle's deliciously tacky "Zotz!" (1962), which casts Tom Poston opposite Julia Meade. Jim Backus is in there, too. See it at 9:45 a.m. (est.).
There's an aching beauty about Herbert Ross's subtle, new-style musical remake of "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" (1969), with Peter O'Toole providing the pervasive melancholy and Petulia Clark the buoyancy. The roadshow version plays at 4:45 p.m. (est.) on 13 March.
New one to me: Elliott Silverstein's "Nightmare Honeynoon" (1973), apparently about a couple on a honeymoon from hell. Pat Hingle stars with Dack Rambo (always loved that name) and Rebeccca Dianna Smith; wake up early to see it - 3:30 a.m. on 14 March. Later in the day, at 6:15 (est.) watch Steve McQueen, Bobby Darin and James Coburn in Don Siegel's tight and tidy war flick, "Hell is for Heroes" (1962).
An unhearalded comedy worth checking out is George Sidney's "Who Was That Lady?" (1960), showing at noon (est.) on 15 March. Few scenes are as funny as the sequence in which stars Dean Martin and Tony Curtis are in a flooded basement but think that they are in a submarine that sprung a leak. Janet Leigh, Barbara Nichols and Joi Lansing co-star.
It's taking every one of my nerve ends not to mention Richard Quine's "Bell, Book and Candle" (1959), which airs 4 p.m. (est.) on 15 March - and which keeps getting better with each viewing. There.
The singular Jerry Lewis gets a four-film mini-festival on 16 March, starting with Jerry Paris' "Don't Raise the Bridge, Lower the River" (1967), co-starring the inimitable Terry-Thomas, at 10:30 a.m. (est.), followed by George Marshall's "Hook, Line and Sinker" (1969), with Peter Lawford and Anne Francis; Lewis's great "Three on a Couch" (1966), with his "Living It Up" co-star, Janet Leigh, and his masterwork "The Nutty professor (1963).
Heaven. Absolute heaven.
Nutty? Jerry invented Nutty, perfected in "Professor"OK, here goes... "The Brain That Wouldn't Die." A scientist keeps his 'wife's severed head alive until he can find a new body for her. Directed by Joseph Green in 1962. Love it. 16 March at 9:30 p.m.
Stay up late that night to catch back-to-back performances of James Whales' superior version of "Show Boat" (1936) and Hitchcock's sordid "Frenzy," starting at 11:15 p.m. (est.)
The sadly underused Rod Taylor had his best screen role in "Young Cassidy" (1965), based on playwright Sean O'Casey's involvement with the Irish rebellion of 1910. Maggie Smith and Julie Christie are his co-stars. The film started production with John Ford at the helm and was completed by Jack Cardiff. Watch it: 10:15 p.m. (est.) on 17 March.
Sophia Loren and Peter Sellers were once slated to reteam in "A Shot in the Dark" (with Loren only to be replaced first by Romy Schneider who, in turn, was replaced by Elke Sommer, Seller's eventual co-star) but it never happened. That's how much fun they had in Anthony Asquith's "The Millionairess" (1961), airing on Turner at 11 a.m. (est.) on 20 March.
It's quite a jump to Monte Hellman's cult classic, "Two-Lane Blacktop" (1971), starring James Taylor, the late Warren Oates and the late Laurie Bird. Must-see. 2:30 a.m. (est.) on 21 March.
Marilyn Monroe almost never played dark but she did in Henry Hathaway's lurid "Niagara" (1952). Watch MM as she runs afoul with her deranged husband Joseph Cotton, her new friends Jean Peters and Casey Adams and the law. Jeez. 4:14 p.m. (est.) on 22 March.
Pencil in just about all of 23 March for a bunch of Joan Crawford guilty pleasures - starting at 12:45 p.m. with Robert Aldrich's "Autumn Leaves" (1956), followed by Hall Bartlett's 'The Caretakers" (1963), William Castle's "Strait-Jacket" (1964) and Jim O'Connolly's "Berserk" (1967).
For fun, check out Steve McQueen in one of his rare comedies, Richard Thorpe's "The Honeymoon Machine" (1961) at 4 p.m. (est.) on 24 March. It's based on the play, "The Golden Fleecing" that starred Tom Poston and Suzanne Pleshette. Bridgette Bazlen has the Pleshette role here. The rest of the day is devoted to Chuck Jones cartoons, in addition to his 1969 feature, "The Phantom Tollboth," made in tandem with Abe Levitow and David Monahan and featuring Butch Patrick.
It's a late-night showing but John Hough's "The Legend of Hell House" (1973) is worth watching for stars Pamela Franklin (and what whatever happened to her?), Roddy McDowell and Clive Revill.
See it at 2 a.m. (est.) 28 March.
Melvin Frank's "Li'l Abner" dances circles around Metro musicalsLaurence Harvey is remembered in two of his most compelling performances - in Jack Clayton's "Room at the Top" (1959), airing noon (est.) on 26 March, and John Frankenheimer's "The Manchurian Candidate" (1962), at 2 p.m. (est.) on 28 March. The Frankenheimer is followed by Robert Benton's Hitchockian "Still of the Night" (1982), with Roy Scheider and Meryl Streep, and George Marshall's playful "Houdini" (1953), starring the era's fun couple, Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh.
Melvin Frank's adaptation of the Broadway hit, "Li'L Abner" (1959), wasn't a huge hit but it's a good film with some of the best choreography on screen, courtesy of Michael Kidd, as restaged by Dee Dee Wood. It's certainly better than some of the MGM musicals of that era - a time when Metro tuners were living off dusty credentials.
The colorful "Li'L Abner" will be shown noon (est.) on 29 March.
Speaking of Metro, Charles Waters' lovely "Lili" (1953) - airing 8 a.m. (est.) on 30 March - may be the most bizarre MGM musical of them all - bizarre because it's essentially a one-song musical, with one dance production number added for good measure. Still, it feels like a musical, and hats off to Waters for bringing genuine French ambience to it.
It is preceded by George Sidney's "Kiss Me, Kate" (1953), arguably the only stage musical not mutilated by Metro for the screen.
One of the more annoying films of the 1970s was Mike Nichols' abrasive "The Fortune," featuring self-congratulatory and self-conciously "comic" performances by Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty (definitely not a comic). It's saved by Stockard Channing in her official film debut. Turner penciled it in for 10 p.m. (est) on 30 March.
The month ends with two bang-up sci-fi hoots, Gene Fowler, Jr.'s "I Married a Monster from Outer Space" (1958), with Gloria Talbot and Tom Tryon, and Don Siegel's essential "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (1956), airing back-to-back starting at 8 p.m. on 31 March.
The star of the month is Ronald Reagan - and the less said, the better - and the new co-host of Robert Osborne's is the ubiquitous Alec Baldwin.
More about Al later...